One of the reasons there’s a widespread definitional dating in our day is because recreational dating doesn’t deliver what it promises. And you know what they say about the definition of insanity — it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. How about trying a different approach to dating?
I’m going to teach you the same process Natalie and I taught other couples who have been burned by relationships in the past and want to try an approach that leads to finding their mates without trashing their hearts in the process. In a time when relationships become “Facebook official” overnight, you need to take time — without everybody else applying pressure or giving an opinion — to see if you’re really attracted to the other person, if your values line up and if you can help each other become who you’re meant to be.
Wouldn’t you like a clear path to a healthy relationship?
Take 90 days to get to know each other without pressure. Gasp! “90 days?!” Hey, it’s just three months, less than the length of a football season. That’s not such a long time to spend forming an intentional friendship, which might lead to intentional dating, which might lead to marriage, now is it?
If you can, go through this process with advisers in the form of a trusted married couple who are wise in the ways of the Lord. The first time you meet with them, it’s like an on-ramp to a relationship. The last time you meet with them, at the end of 90 days, it’s like an off-ramp to get out of the relationship easily if it hasn’t worked out. Or else it’s like a green light to continue the journey and see where it goes.
Discuss Your Relationship Fears
Write down your three greatest fears of being in relationship, and share them with each other. Maybe they include “getting pressured to be more physical than I want.” Or “telling my deep secrets and having you share them with your friends.” Or “not being treated like I’m important.” Or “having my hopes built up, only to have them ruined.”
By doing this, you each know something about your expectations. You get a chance to be protective of each other’s hearts. And this vulnerability provides accountability later on. For example, if she said she wants to still be a virgin when she marries and he is pushing to have sex, that shows he doesn’t care about her values.
Agree on Boundaries
No matter how old or how experienced you are, if you want to have a pure relationship and not create too strong of a physical tie before marriage, then you need to agree from the outset about what you will or will not do. You may be thinking, I don’t need boundaries. I’m grown. Well, so are your pain, disappointments and frustrations. Boundaries aren’t bad; they’re actually a blessing.
These are a few rules for the road so you don’t get in an accident on the journey.
- Set a curfew. Every date needs an ending time. Decide that one of you is always going to go home at midnight or whatever other time you agree on.
- What’s a no go for touch? Maybe it’s hugs that last longer than thirty seconds. Or French kissing. Or whatever. Know the triggers that could take you all the way to sex.
- What else would help? Maybe you’ll agree not to watch movies with sex scenes in them. Or not to send each other notes or texts that are too suggestive. A lot of couples agree to never chill in a horizontal position (lying down on a couch or bed), only in a vertical position.
These kinds of boundaries may seem petty, and they’re not meant to be legalistic, but they have a way of helping people keep from succumbing to natural temptations. They create a safe place for you to learn about each other. They encourage less touching and more talking.
Have Focused Conversations
It can be hard to make conversation when you don’t know each other well. So, read a book about relationship and discuss it. It will help you get to know each other and start sensing if you’re right for each other.
For example, I encourage couples to read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. It will give you a peek into how the other person works and help you frame the relationship. For example, if one person loves gifts, the other one had better be prepared to open his wallet from time to time. It can also help you avoid mistakes. If somebody loves quality time and the other one loves physical touch, you’d better set strong physical boundaries because one is going to want to sit on the couch all the time and the other one is going to want to be touched — and that’s a recipe for a baby.
After ninety days, have a conversation to see where you stand. Are you attracted to each other? Green light or red flag?
I always encourage people to pay attention to patterns, not potential. All of us have the potential to do better in our weak areas, but can we live with each other’s patterns? For instance, she may seem flirtatious to you, but she says it’s just her personality — she’s bubbly and likes talking to everybody. Can you live with that? Transformation in this area may come eventually, but even if so, there’s no timetable on it.
You may want to go ahead with more dating together, hopefully leading to engagement and marriage, or you may decide to call it quits. If you do decide to end it here, hopefully the breakup will happen without all the painful ripping apart that can happen when a dating couple is too tightly bonded. Instead of feeling like you lost, you can feel like you gained — you had some fun, you got to know somebody else and you picked up some relationship tools that you can use next time around.
Your relationship goal of marriage is still alive and healthy.